In 2007, I came back to video games.
It has always been a dynamic relationship.
My brother convinced my parents to get us a PS1 for his birthday. We stuck with Sony consoles through the PlayStation 2.
My interest in games waned again just before the generational switch (PS2 – PS3).
Having witnessed the July War in 2006, I was full of anger, resentment, rage.
I wrote a lot in that period. I read a lot. I listened to music and drove around the Midwestern back country alone.
I had no place for games then.
But I got tired. I burnt myself out.
I collapsed in and found nothing.
A friend of mine had managed to purchase a PlayStation 3 near launch in fall 2006.
I would go over to his place some nights and we would play Call of Duty 4 together.
It was strange to me even then that I could find some comfort in playing a war game considering I had just lived it.
But I was tired and it was fun.
I bought a PlayStation 3 in 2007.
The PS3 was more than just a console to me, it was a companion.
A friend to pull me back into myself.
I still had my PS2 and used it to play fighting games and old JRPGs, but the PS3 was about potential, it was about looking forward.
I chose PlayStation over Xbox because Microsoft was taking themselves too seriously at that time. It felt as though MS was trying to turn the 360 into a war simulator (Gears of War, Halo 3) and I couldn’t deal with it.
Assassin’s Creed was the first game I bought.
I bought it because it looked like Thief.
I bought it because the hero was an Arab. I needed that. I needed to see that.
After I completed AC, I bought CoD4. I loved the crispness of its action and the quick pacing.
It was a grand piano of a game.
I was back into games now. I was having a great time.
And in Christmas 2008 I discovered something I thought had died in the medium:
I still don’t understand what compelled me to consider buying Prince of Persia.
It was getting a lot of attention. The sentiments were mixed.
I had tried to enjoy the franchise before, somewhere in the Sands of Time trilogy on PS2.
I didn’t like it.
Coming off of God of War, PoP lacked the visceral, flashy combat I had become used to.
Prince of Persia was all about the fluidity of motion and in the mid-2000s, that wasn’t something I was looking for.
When the new PoP released in December of 2008, I had already begun to think about games differently.
I had begun to see them less as virtual gauntlets and more as products of interlocking systems. I made the switch from playing games to analyzing them.
As I looked through the screenshots of the new Prince of Persia, I fell in with the art.
The colors were vivid, bright. The lines were bold. It reminded me of Okami, but more fluid.
I bought the game based on art alone.
I went home for Christmas.
Sitting in my old bedroom in the middle of a heavy winter: I spent a lot of time in Prince of Persia’s world.
The movement was bubbly, the levels had charisma. It was a beautiful game.
Much of the talk around this new interpretation of the PoP series involved not being able to die.
Many in the gaming community felt that not being punished for failing a jump made the game too easy, too simplistic, and less rewarding.
They got this one wrong though.
The punishment in Prince of Persia is that you lose the fluidity of movement.
You lose the ability of fluid expression, of pure motion.
This subtlety was lost on many.
The amount of negative feedback has stalled the series.
I never bought a DS.
When Nintendo announced the DS, they said it wasn’t meant to replace the Game Boy.
I held onto my SP waiting for a new Game Boy announcement. I loved and still love everything about the SP.
But that announcement never came.
I bought the 3DS out of frustration, out of having been tricked by Nintendo into waiting, into missing an entire portable generation of content.
I bought the 3DS when the media and the community at large was saying it was going to fail.
I always have a tendency to get involved at the ends of things and I believed them.
At one point, I hadn’t touched my 3DS for months. I thought it really was over.
Then I read Tim Rogers’ review about Super Mario 3D Land.
I bought the game immediately.
I loved it.
SM3DL was the first Mario Game I played since Super Mario World.
It had the same core, emotive design as PoP in 2008: A platforming game designed around joy, around really inhabiting and exploring a world of bright colors, excellent movement, and charismatic levels.
Super Mario 3D Land made me smile.
While critically acclaimed, again the game was considered too easy by many.
The point was missed again.
The player can still die in 3D Land. However, death isn’t the punishment for bad play.
The actual punishment is being kicked out of that world for a brief moment.
The punishment is the extraction from a joyous place.
Death is only the conveyor.
3D Land has stuck with me.
I go back and think about it.
Super Mario 3D World is also a good game, but it has more problems.
3D World lacks some of the joy, the lightness of 3D Land.
It takes itself a little more seriously.
3D World is a little more messy.
This probably has to do with it being a console game and therefore having to be full of content.
It’s no surprise then that the next joyous platformer would appear on the 3DS.
Triple Deluxe is wonderful.
The game is always playing with and manipulating player expectations through clever level design.
It is bursting with joy.
It is the true companion to 3D Land.
The most impressive element in Triple Deluxe is the use of 3D.
Levels are two planes: Front and Rear.
The Front plane is where the player operates most of the time.
The player can still see what’s happening in the Rear.
The player is also transported in and out of the Rear plane throughout the levels.
With the player operating in one plane, while being able to see what’s happening in the other, Kirby: Triple Deluxe wastes nothing.
It is a tight game driven by Chekhov’s Gun and joy.
Triple Deluxe is stunningly beautiful.
Bright, thick, and layered: Triple Deluxe is a rainbow ice cream cake of art.
Dying in K:TD is difficult.
It sits somewhere between PoP and 3D Land, between not dying and dying as a conveyance.
This again has led many to suggest it is too simple.
And again, the subtlety is lost.
Kirby: Triple Deluxe doesn’t really want to punish the player. It encourages the player to inhabit the world as much as they want.
Where in PoP the player loses movement and momentum and in Mario the player’s time in the world is dictated, Kirby wants the player to lounge around in its world.
It wants the player to hang out and poke around.
This is very rare for a 2D platformer.
Kirby: Triple Deluxe is a game that should be sipped at, like Dark Souls.
The gaming media and community need to stop judging games simply by the merits of their difficulty.
Not every game is designed within the spectrum of ‘simple-difficult’.
The metrics of analysis must be greatly expanded.
The medium needs more games designed around joy, designed around the idea of wanting to inhabit a place.
Since 2008, I’ve played a lot of games and the only ones that have managed to stick with me are the ones that make me feel welcome:
The games with warmth in their bones.